Christianity Among Other Religions

Many people want to know what makes Christianity different than all the other religions that exist. For one thing, no other religion on Earth has such strong historical and archaeological support. That’s not to mention the Bible was written over a period of 1,500 years by about forty authors from various walks in life. Furthermore, it was written in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) and on three continents (Asia, Africa, Europe). It is also the only religious text that foretells the future. The Bible is more than a book. It is a work of God.

Time after time, archaeology has eliminated doubts about the truth of the Bible. Two examples of this are the Hittites as a people and Nazareth as a city. The existence of both used to be doubted because apart from the Bible there were no known references to them. That changed. Archaeologists have found clay tablets in Assyria and Egypt that describe the Hittites’ way of life, as well as Hittite artifacts and monuments in the ancient city of Carchemish. Nazareth’s existence was also proven when archaeologists at Caesarea Maratima found an inscription that mentions Nazareth as a town where members of Judaism’s priestly class settled after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 135. It’s now common knowledge that the Hittites and Nazareth both existed.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, much of the Bible is still called fiction. Some people say Jesus never existed, even though He was mentioned by the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, the Jewish historian Josephus; Pliny the Younger, who was an inquirer of Asia Minor’s governor; and the ancient Jewish writings called the Talmud. “These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.” (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, 1994, Vol. 22, p. 336) The events of the Bible are just as real as the people and places it mentions. One of many proven events is the decree of Cyrus, king of Persia (Ezra 1: 1-11). “Scholars have discovered the decree of Cyrus, king of Persia, permitting the peoples exiled by his Babylonian predecessors to return to their ancestral lands and to reclaim their sacred shrines and holy objects. For this reason, the Biblical story of Cyrus’ permitting the Jews to return to Israel with the utensils from the Jerusalem Temple and to rebuild the Temple may be taken as historically verified.” (The World Book Encyclopedia, 2002, Vol. 2, p. 284)

Miraculous events of the Bible are especially in the nonbelievers’ line of fire, some of which also have extrabiblical support. Joshua 10: 12-14 say God made the sun stand still ” about a whole day ” to allow His people to finish defeating their enemies in battle. (Saying the sun stood still is no more incorrect than saying the sun rises and sets.) There are numerous legends from ancient peoples, such as the Greeks and Chinese, that speak of an unusually long day. Some atheists claim this proves the Bible’s mention of a long day was borrowed from these legends. That’s the argument made in the book Bible Myths, by T.W. Doane. It might be somewhat convincing if there weren’t also ancient legends from Native Americans and Polynesians that speak of an unusually long night on the other side of our planet. One atheist, Immanuel Velikovsky, admitted that these legends were based on an actual event. In his book Worlds in Collision, he tries to explain away this miracle by saying Earth almost collided with Venus and was affected by gravity and electromagnetism. It doesn’t take a scientist to know this is nonsense.

If the people, places and events of the Bible aren’t being challenged, the preservation of its Scripture is. It’s often said, “The Bible has been copied and recopied so many times. Surely the text we have today is much different than the original text.” Thanks to this misconception, there are “Christians” who believe the Bible is flawed. There is also Islam, which teaches that in the early seventh century Muhammad started receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel to compile the Qur’an because God’s original Scripture had been altered. The Qur’an rejects the core tenants of Christianity by saying Jesus was only a prophet (Sura 4: 171; 5: 75) and was never even crucified (4: 157). These and other attacks on the Bible’s veracity are without merit. While there have been a few minor errors in some copies of Scripture, none of them had any effect on doctrine or the message presented. Moreover, most of these errors can be cleared up just from the context or material found in parallel passages.

The oldest known version of the Hebrew Old Testament used to be the Masoretic text from the tenth century, and with nothing  to compare it with, its accuracy could be challenged. Then, in 1947, biblical scrolls were found in caves above the Dead Sea. They predated the Masoretic text by a thousand years and had identical wording, with the exception of some varied spelling, grammar, and other minor differences. As for the New Testament, archaeologists have uncovered more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts, with fragments dating back as early as the second century. In addition to this, there are more than 10,000 Latin Vulgate and more than 9,000 other early manuscripts, giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament.  More than 99% of the New Testament can be reconstructed from them. If this weren’t enough, the church fathers from the second and third centuries quoted from the New Testament in their writings so often that they contain it in its entirety, except for only eleven verses.

The only thing critics really have to challenge the Bible’s consistency through the ages is there have been questions about the inclusion of some small portions of the New Testament, none of which change the Bible’s message. The biggest passage in question is Mark 16: 9-20, which is missing from two fourth-century manuscripts. The exclusions probably mean nothing because these verses were sanctioned by early church fathers such as Justin Martyr (A.D. 155), Tatian (170) and Irenaeus (180). If its’ one day proven that this passage was not part of the original text, it wouldn’t be any less true. Mark 16: 9-11 are verified elsewhere ( Matt 28: 9,10; John 20: 11-18 ), as are 16: 12,13 ( Luke 24: 13-15, 28-31 ), 16: 14-16 ( Matt 28: 16-20; Luke 24: 44-49; Acts 1: 6-8 ), 16: 17,18 ( Acts 16: 18; 2: 4; 28: 3-8 ) and 16: 19,20 ( Luke 24: 50-53 ). (Note: Mark 16: 18 doesn’t mean God will protect believers from harm if they purposely drink poison and handle venomous snakes. Not only is tempting God forbidden [Matt. 4: 5-7], nothing in the Bible promises unlimited protection for believers. Although God can and does intervene sometimes to protect them, they are not invincible. God protected three men from burning in a furnace of fire [Dan. 3: 21-25], but before they were spared they knew they had no guaranteed protection [3: 17, 18]. It just happened to be God’s will that they were spared.)

There were many conquests during the 400 years between the time that the writings of the Old Testament were finished and the arrival of Jesus Christ to bring about the New Testament Church. The land of Israel went from being under Persian control to Greek control in 332 B.C. It then became part of the Roman Empire in 63 B.C. Rome began as a city-state in the eighth century B.C., but by the end of the third century B.C. it ruled all of Italy and had taken control of Sicily, its first overseas province. By the time Jesus was born (approximately A.D. 1) Rome had control over southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. This empire played a big part in shaping the world of the New Testament.

 

Although the Jews don’t acknowledge it, the New Testament records the coming of their Messiah, the Son of God. It’s not a work of fiction that was attached to the Old Testament the way that the Book of Mormon was scandalously attached to the Christian Bible. The Old Testament foretold God being born into a human body to become the Messiah (Isa. 9: 6). The New Testament revealed that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 1:1), the Messiah (John 4: 25, 26). He is called Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Some of the most significant prophecies Jesus fulfilled as the Christ were being born of a virgin (Isa. 7: 14; Matt. 1: 23) of the lineage of Jesse (Isa. 11: 1; Matt. 1: 1-5) in the city of Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:1). The Old and New Testament are in agreement. The Book of Mormon, however, contradicts both Testaments by saying the Messiah was born in the city of Jerusalem   (Alma 7: 9, 10). This alone is enough to disprove the Mormon religion.

 

Christianity officially began with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was when Judaism should have become a thing of the past, but most of the Jews rejected Jesus, so members of the Jewish religion don’t believe in the New Testament. The unbelieving Jews called Jesus a fraud because they expected their Messiah to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and give them back their independence. The Old Testament says He will be a king over all the world (Ps. 2: 6-9; Dan. 7: 13, 14; Mic. 5:4). What they didn’t understand is there would be two comings of their Messiah. He was a spiritual redeemer following His first coming instead of a liberating king.  A careful examination of the Old Testament reveals that the Messiah will be King AFTER the fall of a different king who will  “speak great words against the Most High” ( Dan. 7: 23-27 ). This king will be slain  “and given to the burning flame” (7:11), and then his kingdom will  “be given to the people of the saints of the Most High”(7: 27). (It becomes clear that this king is the antichrist by studying the New Testament’s book of Revelation.) The impatient Jews wanted a Messiah who would fight for them immediately, so they spitefully brought false charges against Jesus to have the Romans crucify Him. Not long after His resurrection He ascended to Heaven (Like 24: 51) and will return one day as the Warrior the Jews had expected (Zech. 14: 3).

 

The Gospels record the crucifixion of Christ as being under the orders of Judea’s governor, Pontius Pilate (Matt. 27: 22-31; Mark 15: 12-15; Luke 23: 20-25; John 19: 13-16). This same information was also recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, and by the Roman historian Tacitus in his The Annals of Imperial Rome. What happened to Jesus is an irrefutable fact of history. (Muslims mistakenly believe the Crucifixion was either an illusion, or that someone was substituted for Jesus.) Admittedly, the historical Crucifixion by itself is not evidence for Jesus being the Messiah. His execution needs to be compared to what the Old Testament said would come to pass. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah foretold a Man being “despised and rejected of men” ( v. 3 ), who would be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (v. 7 ) after  “He was taken from prison and from judgment”  ( v. 8 ), even though “He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth” ( v. 9 ). This is what happened to Jesus, who had been falsely convicted of treason.

 

The prophet Isaiah said this Man would be killed to “make His soul an offering for sin” (Isa. 53: 10). Old Testament law required the sacrifice of animals to atone for sin, and these animals were to be without blemish (Lev. 9: 3; Duet. 15: 21). In other words, everything sacrificed to God was to be perfect. Only the Messiah, who was God incarnate, could have been the perfect Man spoken of by Isaiah. Also, the prophet Daniel foretold the Messiah being ” cut off” (Dan. 9: 26), which is a Hebrew phrase that means to destroy or kill. The small percentage of Jews who converted to Christianity did so because they were willing to accept the fact that their Scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 17: 10-12). The New Testament is correct in saying we are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1: 19). The burden of making sacrifices ended when God was manifested in the flesh (I Tim. 3: 16) to become the very last sacrifice for sins (Heb. 9: 11-14, 28; 10-12).

 

The Bible tells us the Judeo-Christian God is the only true God (John 17: 3), and that there is salvation in no other (Acts 4: 12). I pity those who believe in some other allegedly sacred text that says the same of a different god or gods. Unlike any other book, the Bible thoroughly explains why we are here, how we should live our lives, how the world will end, and what will happen afterwards. The writings of every other religion lack this completeness. This was good enough for Christians from earlier times to trust in the Bible, and Christians today can especially trust in the Bible thanks to the wealth of evidence that now exists to verify so much of what it says.